The leaders, meeting in the southern West Bank town of Hebron on Monday, warned that no Palestinian leadership would accept any peace settlement with Israel without “withdrawal from 100% of the occupied territories, including first and foremost East Jerusalem”.
Abbas Zaki, a key loyalist of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, said: “They [the Israelis] have committed every conceivable crime against us, but we haven’t given in or given up. Today, we are as determined as ever to wrest our rights and occupied land from their hands.”
Asked if he believed Israel had not already killed the possibility of a viable West Bank state by building the “separation wall”,Zaki suggested the barrier “was an expression of Israel’s desperation and failure to defeat us”.
Zaki argued that Israel was increasingly becoming an “annoying liability” for the United States, especially after the latter’s “immersion in the Iraqi quagmire”.
Another Fatah leader taking part in the discussion, Ahmad Said Tamimi, warned that the American plan to introduce democratic reforms to the Arab world was motivated by “ill will and malicious considerations”.
“I tell you my brothers and sisters, America’s real aim is to liquidate the Palestinian question, not bring democracy to the Arabs and Muslims.
“America’s real aim is to liquidate the Palestinian question, not bring democracy to the Arabs and Muslims. Since whenhas America really cared about democracy and human rights in the Muslim world?” Ahmad Said Tamimi, Fatah leader
“Since whenhas America really cared about democracy and human rights in the Muslim world?” said Tamimi who is also Deputy Minister of Interior in the Palestinian Authority.
“Haven’t you seen that they didn’t utter a single word about Palestine in their so-called New Middle East plan. They want simply to make Arabs and Muslims forget something called Palestine … and the way to reach this goal is by busying the Arabs with this purported democracy.”
Tamimi said while the Palestinians could not fight America, they had the ability to foil and thwart its plans and designs throughout the Arab world and Muslim world.
“I think America knows that without achieving a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all her plans and dreams in this region would avail to nothing.”
Faced with tough questions from the audience over a myriad of issues such as the lack of democracy in the Palestinian Authority, Chairman Yasir Arafat and continuing corruption, the Fatah leaders argued that “one can’t behave normally under abnormal situations”.
Audience members asked tough questions about PA corruption
Musa Abu Sabha, a lawmaker from the southern town of Yatta, 19km south-west of Hebron,admitted that “our democracy is still suffering from certain bruises here and there”.
However, he said “a bruised democracy is still better than an outright despotism or autocracy”.
When one disenchanted questioner asked Abu Sabha if he had any guarantees that the bruises would not deteriorate into deep wounds, the veteran Fatah leader said: “You, all of you, are the guarantee.”
None the less, Abu Sabha agreed the main problem facing the Palestinian political system is the “dominant status” of PA chairman Yasir Arafat.
“It is no secret that whenever we want to do or accomplish something, we have to knock on Yasir Arafat’s door. That is a real problem.”
The leaders, however, evaded questions from Aljazeera.net on how they thought the post-Arafat era would look.
One lawmaker suggested it was inappropriate to ask such a question at this time “because the president is not only a president, but a great national asset”.
“Arafat is the Palestinian rock. Remember that America and Israel have been trying to isolate and kill him, but he is still there, like a lion in his den.”
However, everyone agreed the next Palestinian leader would have to come through the “ballot boxes” and not only as a result of “revolutionary legitimacy”.
“We know that the post-Arafat era is going to be difficult,” said Zaki. “This is why we pray to God to prolong Arafat’s life.”
Many in the audience were utterly dissatisfied with the “silly talk about Palestinian democracy”.
One person accused the Fatah leaders of “deceiving the people and insulting their intelligence by this deceptive talk about democracy”.
“You know quite well that we didn’t elect you forever. Your terms of office expired five years ago. But you are still in your posts and acting as representatives of the people. This is the greatest distortion of democracy.”
“You know quite well that we didn’t elect you forever. Your terms of office expired five years ago. But you are still in your posts and acting as representatives of the people. This is the greatest distortion of democracy”
Audience member addressing the Fatah leaders
To this Zaki responded: “You are right, but you know well that we have been experiencing abnormal circumstances. OK, let us hold elections tomorrow! Can you guarantee that the Israeli army won’t arrest all of us?
“I want to tell that I myself was beaten by Israeli occupation soldiers the other day while on my way to Ram Allah.”
Sulayman Abu Snaina, a minister without portfolio, admitted the questioner was “treading on a sensitive nerve”.
However, he argued that the legislative council should continue to “hang on” in order not to leave a vacuum that could be exploited by Israel to inflict more harm on the Palestinians.